Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How To Stop Messing Up With Homework

A Word On Third - How To Stop Messing Up With Homework


Hi, Teachers!

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Okay, now that that's out of the way, I can get to the juicy stuff. Are you...
  • Struggling to grade homework?
  • Finding that kids complain about homework?
  • Struggling to get kids to complete homework?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, it is time to re-think your homework policy in your class. I just stumbled upon an article about Finland's schools that inspired this post, which you can read here. The article covered a few things, including the topic of homework. This is something I've thought about for a long time. Way back when I received Responsive Classroom training, we discussed that while we should implement logical consequences to manage behavior, homework completion was the exception to that rule. Homework is a sensitive subject because students, teachers, and families can all have drastically different expectations and needs. Here are a few thoughts I have which can help make homework a breeze for you.


1. Stop assigning so much homework.
Yup, I said it. I know some people will disagree with me, but I think this is really important. Research backs this idea too, and you can read about that here. If a kid spends 6 to 7 hours in school all day and only has 4 or 5 hours of down-time when he or she gets home, we have to consider how much of that time should be filled with homework. There have been many times I have gotten weird looks when I share how little homework I assign my students, and it can be uncomfortable for me. When I put myself in my student's shoes, however, I know I'm making the right choice for my kids. Here's my general rule:

A Word On Third - How To Stop Messing Up With Homework

So see that nasty pile of books, binder paper, and notebooks in that picture? That is just too much for one night. I don't care if you teach 12th grade, kindergarten, or something in between. I think this rule is the cut off for kids. I teach third grade-so 3 x 10 = 30. That means 30 is the maximum number of minutes I expect kids to spend on homework each night. Many nights I assign less! When kids don't get a chance to process information, rest, and do the things they need to do in their personal life because of homework, homework is not only a chore, but something that is limiting their life. According to the Edutopia article I linked earlier, it can decrease a child's interest in learning. Now I KNOW that's not what you want! We also need to remember that while we might value homework, maybe parents don't. Guess what? That's OK. I have a few students who are really irregular with homework completion, and I have learned to accept that that is OK. Homework doesn't have to be a one-size-fits-all.

If something I assign is too challenging for kids, I ask parents to write a note on the homework saying it took too long. Then I'll know to re-teach that child that concept.  Since I choose to have kids read and write about their reading for 20 minutes each night, that means I can only assign 10 minutes of homework for the rest of the night. Remember, homework is about practicing previously-taught skills, and it shouldn't take your kids a long time. If you sent home a math worksheet, can they do only even or odd numbers? Can you ask kids to complete 5 word problems instead of 50? These are important things to consider. If you teach in a grade that is departmentalized (for example, you only teach English), you may want to consider that students have homework from other teachers also.


2. Assign things ahead of time.
This might not always be convenient for you, and that's OK. However, you might find that this is easier to put in place than you think. I expect kids to write in their reader's notebook once every week. They know it will always be checked on Mondays. That means that students can complete this any day of the week (even weekends, if they'd prefer) on a day that is convenient for them. Now kids with after-school activities have the ability to budget their time wisely, and parents will thank you that they don't have to rush to get something done on a busy night. I write assignments like this on the homework board and it never changes. Some things that I find are easy to schedule ahead of time are:
  • Spelling/word study assignments (read my next idea and you'll see how I handle this one)
  • Reader's or writer's workshop homework (for older grades, think about assigning a certain number of notebook entries and checking them one day per week)
  • Math practice (whether kids practice on a website/app or you have word problems for homework, consider giving more than one day for assignments to be completed)
  • Major projects
It's nice for kids to have a homework routine that they are comfortable with. We teach routines in our classroom, so it is natural for them to be incorporated into homework too, right? I'm sure a lot of you do this already.


3. Teach organization strategies.
When students are home, they need strategies to complete homework successfully. Talk about what makes for a successful homework experience. You may even want to consider providing a homework checklist. I have one in my store which you can download for free! Just click the picture below to grab it.
Sometimes all kids need to be self-directed is a little structure. You can read about how to use this product in a previous post I wrote here. It covers a lot of the same ideas in this post! I'm really passionate about this topic, though, so I'm writing again.


4. Give students choice.
Let's be real here. We've all had homework assignments which were so boring we would rather get into a fight with a tiger or jump off a bridge. Those are not useful homework assignments. It's a tricky situation for you as a teacher, because you can't please everyone with one assignment. That's why I give students choice whenever I can. I find this to be very easy with certain assignments too. For example, my kids can write whatever they want when they write about their reading. If I want them to have a genuine connection to the text they read (which they also choose), how can I force them to "make a connection" to what they're reading!? Maybe they don't have one! 

Here's a new product I just put into my store today. It's a FREEBIE, whoo hoo! You can try it out in your classroom or use it as homework, like I do. This choice menu is designed to help your students practice their 5 weekly word wall words. Simply tell students that choices involving a partner can be done with a family member if it is going to be completed as homework. Remember, student choice = increased student engagement! This choice menu includes a choice menu which can be re-used every week and a blank template for you to write in each week's word wall words. All you have to do is write your 5 words, copy each page, and you'll be ready for the week! 


Click the picture to download it in my store. If you use this in your classroom, I recommend asking families to donate old, unwanted magazines and store circulars. You might also want to get some cheap letter stamps.


5. Involve families.
Some homework assignments don't get completed because families don't know how to help. Teach students how to do the homework, possibly in school first. Reach out to families through parent-teacher conferences, and especially at Back To School Night. Discuss your homework policies, and show families your regular homework assignments. Answer questions about homework assignments and show parents a copy of what you expect to assign. This will make a world of difference in your classroom!

If you really want to make things easier for families, consider updating your class webpage (if you have one) so that families can read about homework. Even if families listen really well at Back To School Night, it's easy to forget some things! I have a tab on my class webpage which

  • explains the homework policy in detail 
  • explains typical due dates
  • has PDF files of regular assignments (like the reading log or the choice menu I use each week in word study)
  • log-in information for class websites that might be used for homework

So, teachers, I hope this helps to make your life a little bit easier! Now that you've read this, do you plan to change your homework policy? If so, how? Do you have any homework tricks which you think could help other teachers? Comment below!

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